What does a thankful life look like?
If you have been here before you know that I often post about topics in the Heidelberg Catechism—a 16th century Reformed summary of biblical Christianity. It is a great conversation partner for people who follow Jesus and want to understand the shape of the Bible’s teaching.
Gratitude, giving thanks, is a really big deal for the Heidelberg Catechism.
That means the authors thought gratitude, giving thanks, was a really big deal for biblical Christianity.
The first two thirds of the Catechism tell in detail how God has given us an unimaginably huge gift in Jesus Christ, solving our greatest problem. Now and for eternity, we live as the beneficiaries of this gracious gift.
The Catechism tells us that our task, and the core of our Christian life, is to live out our gratitude.
What we need is some guidance to give shape to the grateful life.
The Catechism explores a couple big topics to help us with that.
The first is the Ten Commandments. After simply quoting them from Exodus 20, here is the start of that exploration:
93 Q. How are these commandments divided?
A. Into two tables.
The first has four commandments,
teaching us how we ought to live in relation to God.
The second has six commandments,
teaching us what we owe our neighbor.
It is exactly like when Jesus summarized the law citing two passages:
- Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
- Leviticus 19:18, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”
(See Matthew 22:36-40)
At least for some, Heidelberg’s division of the law into two tables is troubling. It can seem to artificially divide the life of faithful obedience. Are not our love for God and our love for our human neighbors sort of intertwined?
True enough. When Jesus says the second command is “like” the first, as well as meaning that they are both important he seems to mean that doing either one implies, or expresses, the other.
Still, Heidelberg’s summary of the law into two tables makes a lot of sense when you inspect the Ten Commandments themselves.
- The plain grammar of the early commandments refers to things done directly in relation to God: serving God alone, avoiding idolatry, honoring God’s holy name.
- The plain grammar of the later commandments refers to things done directly in relation to people around us: honoring parents, avoiding murder, adultery, theft, false witness, covetousness.
The command to keep the Sabbath comes at the point of transition and applies in both directions: The difference between the versions of the Decalogue in Exodus and Deuteronomy are instructive here:
- In Exodus 20 the command to keep Sabbath is about relationship to God, keeping one’s life in the same rhythm God chose in resting after six days of creation.
- In Deuteronomy 5 the same Sabbath command is about relationship to people and creation, giving one’s servants rest because Israel had itself been enslaved. Gratitude for deliverance is expressed in graciousness to others.
If you sift and sort them, each of the Ten Commandments falls into one of two big categories:
- We express some of our gratitude in how we live in relation to God.
- We express some of our gratitude in how we live in relation to each other.
I hope that you have a wonderful celebration of Thanksgiving–and that you live out your gratitude toward God and the people all around you!
I would love to hear from you in the comments: Is one “table” of the law easier to live with than the other? How do you see the love of God and love of neighbor relating to each other?